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The Lawn in a Wildlife Garden

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 12 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
Lawn Wildlife Grass Wildflowers

As anyone in the garden centre trade will tell you, wildlife gardening is big. In little more than a decade, it has risen from the minority pursuit of a relatively few passionate individuals to become one of the fastest growing sectors in mainstream British gardening. While a lot of the interest inevitably focuses on ponds, wildflowers and bird-boxes, grass has as important a role to play in the wildlife garden as in any other.

It’s not, however, simply a case of giving up on lawn care and leaving the mower in the shed. There’s more to the whole concept than just abandoning great swathes of your back garden and letting nature take its course. Careful management remains essential, though in the wildlife-friendly world, the trick is to create an environment that is managed, but looks as if it isn’t! At times it can be a difficult balance to strike, but if you’re at all interested in encouraging some of the UK’s magnificent flora and fauna into your own back-yard, then the benefits of having your own piece of grassland make the effort involved more than worthwhile.

Picking the Right Spot

For many dedicated lawn keepers, the prospect of neglecting their prized turf and allowing it to face the world un-mown and under-manicured is just too much – but that’s not really the idea. Most gardens have places where traditional cultivation is difficult, or where having things looking a little wild would not be a problem. Allowing the grass to grow here in a more natural way – and to a longer length –not only starts to provide a good habitat for a whole range of insects and other assorted native beasties, but it also gives gardeners themselves a bit of a break. Particularly in larger gardens, these sorts of areas almost never truly repay the amount of work necessary to keep them looking good in a conventional sense. With this approach, converting them to a low maintenance regime leaves them looking attractive and simultaneously allows the gardener to spend more time on areas where the rewards are greater.

The Wildflower Meadow

Particularly where the ground is relatively low in nutrients and has seldom, if ever, been dosed with fertiliser, wildflowers will often naturally colonise. Even if this doesn’t happen naturally, if the idea appeals, there are plenty of specialist seed mixes available which can get your own created wildflower meadow off to a flying start – though it’s important to buy an appropriate mix for your particular soil type.

The use of wildflowers and native grasses in this way forms a particularly effective backdrop for a wildlife pond and for creative gardeners there’s no shortage of other ways in which the idea can be included within the overall garden design.

Incorporating the Lawn

One of the greatest virtues of grass is its versatility; a relatively small number of individual varieties can make such a big impact – and it’s perfectly possible in all but the very smallest of gardens, to have both a traditional, close-mown lawn and an area of wilder grass. It certainly isn’t a stark choice between one or the other!

Of course, while any garden can benefit from this approach, the whole idea really begins to come into its own in larger spaces. The typical well manicured lawn beside the house, for instance, can be allowed to form the centre-point of the garden proper, while more distant, taller grasses add textural interest and soft architectural elements to the larger landscape design. Taking the idea a step further, closely mown extensions of the lawn can be used as paths through taller grasses; add a few trees, shrubs and suitable bulbs and the lawn and wildlife garden fuse, to bring an edge of woodland feel to the most urban of locations.

The lawn certainly has its place in the wildlife garden – and the only real limit on that role is your own preference and imagination.

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